Release Date : April 7th
The Bastards MC Series Boxed contains the first two books in the series - Always Been Mine and Honey Whiskey
My carefully constructed, picture perfect life is crumbling around me. For the first time in fifteen years, I don't know who I want to be.
I need to find me.
I'm done playing it safe, done caring what others think. I want wild and crazy. And, as much as I try to ignore it, I want Matt to see me as more than just his best friend.
The Bastards live in a world most don't understand. We follow our own rules, only accountable to each other, the innocents we protect, and the people we couldn't save. Each of us wears a mask, hiding behind a polite smile and a respectable job, covering the monsters inside. I made peace with who I was a long time ago. I have no regrets.
Jo Walker. I'm not letting her go without a fight.
A giggle floated across the room, snagging my attention from the conversation a few of the guys were having around me. I didn’t have to look up to know who the contagious sound was coming from—Joes had a laugh like no other. It was a sound that always made me smile.
Then again, Jo had an uncanny ability to make everyone around her react that way. I’d once bet a co-worker he couldn’t spend the entire day locked in a car with her without laughing. The crotchety old bastard was adamant that she was annoying as fuck and he wouldn’t as much as crack a smile. He’d even rolled his eyes at her as they were leaving, scowling at whatever story she’d been sharing.
I didn’t gloat—much—when he walked up at the end of the day and put a fifty in my hand. I did laugh loudly as I walked to my car, but that was only because I’d been in his shoes.
I may have been a member of the Josephine Walker fan club, but after that day, Robert Pappas became the president. Any time one of our co-workers complained about the new kid, Old Bobby—as Jo affectionately called him—was quick to put them in their place. Easiest money I’d ever made.
Another laugh pulled my thoughts back to the present, and I looked up, watching her with our work friends. A group of us had come out for our monthly “Babes and Booze” night; I inwardly cringed at the God-awful title it had been given. It was the one evening a month when we grabbed our significant others and went out drinking to forget that we were responsible adults, a night we all looked forward to for weeks.
There was only one rule: no talking about work. It might sound simple to follow, but at least one of us broke it every month. We couldn’t leave the job at the office, no matter how hard we tried. A bad case stayed with you long after you’d gone home. We all had ‘em, but some of us were a lot more fucking unlucky than others. Sometimes you just needed to lift the bottle, drown the memories, and depend on your friends to get you home.
Tonight, that was my plan. As much as I loved my job, some days I wished I’d stayed a carpenter. A bored housewife who wanted to flirt with the help was a hell of a lot easier to forget than the case I’d been assigned this week. Todd, a tiny toddler, had been beaten bloody because his mom didn’t have one fucking ounce of maternal instinct and lacked even the smallest amount of motherly love. I’d seen some fucked up shit—hell, we all had in this job—but I’d never forget his bruised face, eye swollen shut, and the fear that made every inch of his body shrink away when I walked into his hospital room. He would never remember the words I had whispered or even begin to understand what I meant when I promised him he’d never go through it again. But I’d never forget.
That kid had gotten to me. Part of me wanted to scoop him up and take him home, spend the rest of my life making sure he never missed another meal or bath and proving to him that he could be a kid, a real kid, without fear of physical harm. Another part of me wanted to call Rocker and have the boys come take care of the parents, just to make sure they never got him back. Instead, I did my job. I let the law work the way it was designed and prayed that it wouldn’t let me down. Because I sure as shit didn’t know how I would react if his parents got him back and hurt him again. I wasn’t sure I could do my job if there was a next time.
I could rest easier knowing that one of the best foster moms I had ever worked with was staying at his bedside at the hospital until Todd was discharged. Then she would take him home and love him like her own until his parents could get their shit together. She would hold him, and scare away the monsters in the night, tell him he was adorable and funny and sweet, and give him lots of kisses. She was a fucking saint, the kind of mom every kid deserved. The idea that she might save him then I’d have to take him back to shitty-ass parents pissed me off.
Three days later and I was still pissed off. I could feel the tension flow through my body, as if it was just waiting for someone to infuriate me further so I could use my fists and get out some of this anger. I took a long drag off my bottle, hoping it would help me forget this week.
Joes picked that moment to look over at me, her smile slowly fading into a frown as she caught my eye. Shit! I hadn’t even realized I was giving her the death glare until she raised an eyebrow and tipped her head in silent question. I shook mine, hoping she would understand that she wasn’t my target, and sent her a quick smile. Our friend Teagan grabbed Jo’s arm, dragging her eyes away from mine, and said something that made everyone laugh.
Jesus, she was gorgeous when she laughed. My mouth was suddenly dry, and I took another gulp of my Sam Adams, unable to tear my eyes away from her. She'd pulled her dark hair back, giving me the perfect view of her face; her usually pale skin had a pink tone tonight, probably from all the alcohol she’d consumed, but it suited her. Even from halfway across the bar, I could see the pale blue-green of her eyes. She was beautiful all the time, but when she laughed…
No. I shook my head, scowling at my thoughts. She was taken. Seriously fucking taken. Happily married taken. I ground my teeth at the idea. Married to a fucking douchenozzle who didn’t even begin to deserve her. I may have some serious shit buried deep, but compared to that fucker, I looked like a prince. I took another swig, pissed at my thoughts. She was my Joes, my best friend. That was it. That was all she could ever be, and any other ideas that filtered through my mind, I’d blame on the booze or my miserably fucked up week. Just another reason for me to be pissed off at the world.
I needed a shot. Screw one—I needed ten. Chased by a couple glasses of Jack. I turned back to my buddies, made my excuses, and headed to the bar.
“You okay?” Joey’s voice was full of concern as she slid up to the counter next to me.
I nodded, threw my head back, and swallowed, hissing as the harsh liquor burned its way down my throat. “I will be.”
“Wanna talk about it?”
I could feel her heated gaze but refused to look at her. I didn’t need to see the concern I was sure was etched all over her face. Instead I shook my head and lifted the next shot in line. She chuckled, and I turned to her in surprise.
“Jesus, you are a stubborn ass!” She shook her head, but I couldn’t tell if it was in annoyance or humor. Then she smiled and stepped in closer, wrapping her arms around my hips. “I’m sorry you had such a rough day.”
I sighed, moving my arm around her back and pulling her close. If she didn’t care that Billy or our friends saw us like this, I didn’t either. Fuck ‘em. Half of ‘em thought we were already screwing, and the other half knew she thought of me like a big brother. I couldn’t care less about any of their opinions. As for Billy, he could suck it. I leaned my chin down to rest on the top of her head, enjoying her soft body against me, while she gave me a quick squeeze then pulled away.
I let her back up but kept my arm over her shoulders. My mood instantly improved. “What was that for?”
She smiled up at me then shrugged. “You needed a hug.” She laughed lightly, as if embarrassed by her actions. She tipped her head back to meet my eyes then wrinkled her nose. “I like her.”
One of the many reasons she was my best friend, Jo was a master at changing the subject and could distract me from even my worst thoughts. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” Jo smirked. “I mean, obviously she’s gonna wake up in a few weeks and wonder why in the hell she’s dating an old man who looks like you, but in the meantime, she seems pretty great.”
“Old man, huh? Last time I checked, you were about a minute younger than me.”
“Dude, you turn thirty-five next month and that’s ancient!” Her eyes grew wide in exaggeration, and she laughed. “And what is she, like, twelve?”
I snorted. Tay definitely looked a lot younger than twenty-six. “Yep, something like that.” I couldn’t help but smile down at her.
“Seriously though, she is beautiful. You weren’t lying; I think she may be the prettiest woman I’ve ever met.” A frown crossed her features, but she cleared her face before I could say anything.
I raised an eyebrow, sure I was missing something.
“And she’s nice. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I think you’ve finally found it.”
“It?” I didn’t want to know what she meant, but I had to ask.
“Your future.” I didn’t know what to say, and she shrugged knowingly. “You don’t have to say anything, but it’s been written all over your face all night. You’re distracted because of work, yeah, but you’ve got this goofy surprised look too. As if you just realized something important. Kind of like the one you had when you realized you were in love with Becky.” Jo moved her attention to the bar, as if avoiding me, and grabbed my glass of whiskey. After taking a giant gulp, she turned back to me. “I was worried. After Bex…”
She bit her bottom lip and “hmphed” the way she did when she was debating something. That habit always distracted me and pulled my thoughts to places they shouldn’t be, like wondering what sounds she would make if it was my teeth sinking into her. Forcing my mind to clear, I raised the third shot and downed it fast.
“I just worry about you.”
“I know.” I’d been a screwed up mess after my divorce; there wasn’t a bottle of booze I didn’t like.
Joes had come to my hotel a few weeks after I’d left my house, and she made me sober up. She stayed with me for days while I acted like a pathetic loser, whining and crying and telling her I didn’t have a future without my wife or kid. It was an embarrassing time, and I’d wiped most of it from my mind—of course she’d remembered.
I swallowed hard. “You really think Taylor’s future material? ‘Cause she’s obviously too good for me.”
Jo chuckled. “Obviously. But she’s young and you’re… well, you’re you. She’s probably convinced she’s the lucky one.” She shook her head again. “You be nice to her!”
I’d been seeing Taylor for a few weeks, and even though I’d told Jo all about her and Taylor all about Joes, I’d been dreading introducing them. Becky hadn’t been bothered by the fact that my best friend was a woman; she trusted me, and I never would have betrayed that trust. But some—hell, most—of the women I’d dated since the divorce didn’t feel the same way. My last girlfriend had been convinced that I was going to leave her for Jo one day; instead I broke it off because she wouldn’t stop obsessing and wanted me to stop seeing Joes anywhere other than work. I apparently needed to come with a warning label: Hot female best friend included. Petty, self-centered, and jealous women need not apply.
Taylor wasn’t jealous of anyone; she knew she was damn close to perfection and didn’t have a problem letting everyone know she was God’s gift to men. Yet not only was the threat of another woman still there, but I would do anything for the other woman in this scenario. I just didn’t know how Tay would feel once she figured out how close Joes and I really were.
I was worried about Jo too. She’d been crushed after my divorce. She tells everyone that I’m her best friend, but there were times when it seemed that she and Bex were closer than we were. She’d laugh and tell me it was the “girl code” that made her take Becky’s side in arguments and that I was still her best friend. I’d complain about it, but secretly, I liked the fact that the two of them were cohorts, because it meant I got to spend more time with my two favorite girls. When Bex left me though, she’d dropped Jo too, devastating my friend. I didn’t want to be the cause of that pain again. If she and Taylor got close, and Tay and I didn’t work out, Joes would be left once more.
It had been almost a month since we’d started dating, almost two since we’d met, and it was time for me to introduce the two most important women in my life. Figures it would happen at such a fan-fucking-tastic time, but the week had already been shit, and if they didn’t like each other, that would be par for the course my life had taken lately. I may not have shown it, but I was relieved to avoid that bomb and happy that at least Jo liked Taylor.
“When am I not nice?”
Jo only answered my question with an angry one-eyebrow look.
“Hey!” I held up my hands in defense. “I’m nice to her!” I laughed.
“Who are you being nice to?” Pretty Boy Billy Boy came up behind Jo and wrapped his arms around her possessively.
There wasn’t a single man in that bar still wearing what they’d worn to work except for him. No, everyone else had gone home and changed into jeans. But Billy? His pompous ass needed the entire world to see he wore a suit and tie; he needed everyone to think he was important.
Fucking asshat. I reached for my glass and took a long drink as he slid his face into Jo’s neck. I fucking hated him with every fiber of my body, but I nodded my hello. “Billy.”
“Matt.” His voice was just as cool as mine; there was clearly only one reason we needed to talk to each other, and she was standing right between us. He gave Joes a quick squeeze, making her squeak. “You ready to go, Pudge? I’m exhausted!”
My hand tightened on the glass when I heard the nickname he still used. Fucking hate him. I clenched my jaw, remembering the promise I’d made to Jo last year about minding my own goddamned business. As much as I wanted to beat his ass into oblivion for the sly way he constantly talked down to her, I had to hold it in. He was Jo’s choice, not mine. My job was to support her.
Pudge, Joes told me once, was his term of endearment for her. I didn't understand how a name like that could ever be anything other than an insult. And only an absolute selfish fuck would not be able to see how much it bothered her; it freaking bothered me for her. She wasn't fat. I hated the word curvy—since it had been overused in the last few years to explain away obesity—but that was exactly what Jo was. She reminded me of the 50s pin-up girls in Uncle Liam's workshop—full and round in all the right places, tight and toned in the rest. Lately she'd gotten too thin for my liking, a fact I blamed on Billy and his insulting nickname. I tried to keep my face blank but knew my repulsion must show.
Jo caught my look, and for an instant, shame drifted over hers and she broke eye contact. Patting Billy’s hand, she nodded. “Yeah, babe. I’ll be right there. Go get the coats?” Billy grumbled but retreated back to their table, and she turned eyes that vaguely reminded me of the Caribbean Sea to me. “You sure you’re okay? ‘Cause if you need me to, I can stay.” She smirked suddenly. “I’m not sure how your girlfriend would feel about me hitching a ride home, but…”
I fought the urge to haul her into my arms and instead cupped the softness of her cheek. I stared into her eyes, getting lost for a minute as I thought about what I really wanted to say. Fucking right I need you to stay. I need you to come home with me, need you to make this entire week fade into oblivion. Reality crept in, and I shook my head. “No. Go home. I need to go save Taylor from Teagan anyway.”
She reached a hand up, covering mine. “You know I’m here if you need me, right? I'll always be just a phone call away.”
I nodded. There wasn’t much I was sure about anymore, but that fact was clear.
She dropped her hand to my chest as she stepped into me, stretching up on tiptoes, and kissed my cheek. “Love you, Matty.” She smiled quickly then backed away, my hand falling from her. “See you tomorrow!” Jo called over her shoulder as she made her way to Billy.
I finished off the whiskey before I turned and leaned back against the bar. Taylor was lost in conversation with a group of clerks from work, not even noticing that I wasn’t where she’d left me earlier. I watched her laugh with my friends, waiting for her to realize I was staring, hoping she could feel my eyes on her. She never gave me as much as a glance.
Jo was wrong; Taylor wasn’t my future. I had to be honest with myself, as much as I fucking hated the idea. There was only one woman I wanted to be with for the rest of my life, and she was taken by a dickwad who thought he was too good for her. If she was mine, I’d do anything to keep a smile on her face, make her happy, and keep her safe.
I glowered at that thought, knowing I’d never have the chance. The ball-busting truth was that Billy wasn’t the only one bad for her; the skeletons in my closet terrified even me and were hidden away for a damned good reason. If Joes knew a quarter of my shit, the secrets I kept, she’d run away screaming. I’d never be able to let her in because once I did, she’d leave and never look back. That was not a chance I was willing to take.
No, Jo would never be mine.
That cold hard fact pissed me off more than everything else that had happened this week. Fuck my life. I turned back to the bar and ordered another round.
Carina Adams has been writing and creating characters for as long as she can remember, allowing her to fall in love with the next man of her dreams with every new story.
Thankfully, fate stepped in and granted her the ultimate wish - a life full of men. Carina lives in a picturesque New England town with her husband, the man who ruined the thought of all others, and two amazing sons who always keep her on her toes.
Carina received her MBA in May, but would much rather play with her imaginary friends (the voices in her head) than work her 8 to 5. When she isn’t trying to juggle being a working mom with karate and football practices, surprising her children with her sci-fi movie knowledge, or writing, you can find her with her nose pressed against her kindle, laughing with friends, or living life vicariously as her Derby Girl persona, Writers Block.
Carina is the author the of Bastards MC series and best selling Forever Red. She is currently writing Out of The Blue, the follow up to Forever Red. She loves to hear feedback from her readers, no matter what type.